The reggae lyrics of hate

Observations on homophobia

In February, the Crown Prosecution Service announced a crackdown on homophobic hate crimes. Two months later, the Metropolitan Police issued a new hate crime initiative, encouraging gay people to report homophobic threats.

So why are songs that variously urge the shooting, burning and drowning of gay people - or poofs, faggots, batty men and chi chi men, the latter two being Jamaican insults - still on sale in high-street record stores such as HMV and Virgin? And why are the stars who record these songs among the nominees for Best Reggae Act in the current Mobo (Music of Black Origin) awards?

Beenie Man's track "Damn" boasts: "I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays." Elephant Man's "A Nuh Fi Wi Fault" declares: "Battyman fi dead!/Please mark we word/Gimme tha tech-nine [gun]/Shoot dem like bird." Bounty Killer's hit "Another Level" exhorts: "Bun [burn] a fire pon a kuh mister fagoty/Poop man fi drown."

People have a right to criticise homosexuals. But like other rights of free speech, it does not include the right to incite murder.

Lord Falconer, then solicitor general, said as much nine months ago. "To solicit or incite another to commit a crime (through, for example, homophobic song lyrics) is indictable under common law," he told the House of Lords, "even if the solicitation or incitement has no effect. Therefore a crime would not actually need to be committed to convict people of incitement to violence against homosexual people."

Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, took the same view in a letter to Lord Avebury, the Liberal Democrat peer. Violently homophobic lyrics could be prosecuted as "public order offences" or as "threats/incitement to kill", he advised.

On behalf of the gay rights group OutRage!, I have now written to Commander Steve Allen, head of the hate crimes unit at Scotland Yard, calling for the three reggae stars to be charged under the Public Order Act 1986, the common law offence of inciting violence and murder, or the solicitation to murder clause of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

It was under Section 4 of the 1861 Act that the Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Faisal was convicted in February of soliciting the murder of Jews, Hindus, Americans and non-believers. He was found guilty although neither a prospective assailant nor a prospective victim was identified.

A spokesperson for Mobo, Vanessa Amadi, defended the nomination of the three reggae singers by saying that their names came from the music industry: "We simply reflect the industry." She added: "The work they are nominated for is not in any way homophobic."

This misses the point. The Mobo organisers are giving these singers kudos and legitimacy, suggesting that homophobic performers are acceptable in the black entertainment industry. Imagine the outcry (entirely justifiable) if the music industry were to nominate for an award a gay singer whose songs urged the killing of black people.

The comments of Chris Wells, editor of the black music magazine Echoes, are even more extraordinary: "You are never going to stop this because Jamaica is a very religious society."

Homophobic reggae anthems help to awaken, encourage and validate violent homophobic sentiments. As the Jamaican gay human rights group J-Flag says, this music may sell, but "it also kills". The group reports that there has been a wave of homophobic assaults and murders coinciding with the release of anti-gay records, with victims being shot, attacked with machetes, stoned, set ablaze and chased into the sea and left to drown.

All three of the reggae singers have defended their lyrics on the grounds that homophobia is part of Jamaican culture. Apartheid, one might recall, was part of white South African culture - but that didn't make it right.

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